BY CHAD DARE
Seniors Layn White and Robert Elliott wanted to return the Vermilion County Boys Basketball Championship to Westville this year.
It had been 18 years since the Tigers had held the County’s top honor.
On Saturday night at the David S. Palmer Arena, White and Elliott helped Westville earn its 17th championship with a 43-34 win over the top-seeded Salt Fork Storm.
“I will remember this forever,’’ said White, who had 10 points and six rebounds. “This is what we have been shooting for since the start of the year.
“This is something very special because the whole community comes out for this tournament.’’
And while Westville coach Jeff Millis acknowledges it’s a big deal for the kids and the community, he is quick to remind everyone that there is still two months left in the basketball season.
“We will celebrate tonight and Sunday, but on Monday at 10 a.m. — it’s over,’’ he said. “We have a conference season to finish and a regional tournament.
“You can’t make this a pinnacle of your success.’’
And White echoed those sentiments.
“This game isn’t any more important than any other game we play,’’ he said. “As coach always tells us, we should always play the same.’’
And that consistent effort from the first minute to the final seconds was a big reason that Westville (16-4) claimed the County Championship.
“I thought a big key was that our kids are in such tremendous condition,’’ Millis said. “They can play just as hard in the final minute of the game as they do in the first minute.’’
But, it was his team’s play in the final eight minutes that was the difference in this contest.
Jeffery Thompson scored 10 of his game-high 18 points in that final quarter as the Tigers outscored the Storm 19-10.
“I just wanted to find some open drives or some open shots,’’ said Thompson, who was selected to the all-tournament team.
And even Salt Fork’s Ross Learnard felt that Thompson was the difference on Saturday night.
“You have to give props to Jeffery Thompson — the kid was getting to the basket all game,’’ said Learnard.
Included in Thompson’s final 10 points were six straight made free throws.
“Jeffery has ice water in his veins,’’ Millis said. “He just plays the game. He plays the same way every night.
“Nothing bothers him. Nothing rattles him. I can’t even rattle Jeffery.’’
And even when Thompson didn’t convert on his drives to the basket, White was there to get an offensive rebound and the basket.
“It was one of those games where they made the plays and the free throws down the stretch,’’ Salt Fork coach Andrew Johnson said. “He did a great job of getting to the basket. Even when he missed the shot, we did a poor job of helping the helper and they got an offensive rebound basket.’’
Those second-chance opportunities were a key to Salt Fork’s offensive attack in the first half.
The Storm (15-3) scored nine of their 15 first-half points on offensive rebounds.
“That’s a big difference in a game like this,’’ Johnson said. “When you play defense like Westville, the style they play — those second-chance opportunities are huge.
“It was huge in the first half and it kept us in the game.’’
Salt Fork junior Max Stutsman, who had a team-high 17 points, pulled down a game-high 16 rebounds, including five offensive boards in the first half.
“I lost track of him too many times in the first half,’’ Westville Layn White said. “He was tearing me up in the first half and I was determined to do a better job in the second half.’’
Salt Fork had just four offensive rebounds in the final 16 minutes — three by Stustman — and they led to just two points.
“We had a short discussion at halftime about rebounding,’’ Millis said. “I think they got the message.’’
And while White did the job on the boards, Westville’s other senior Robert Elliott played a key role in the Tigers defensive game.
Elliott held Learnard to just six points on 3-of-11 shooting and the Salt Fork junior didn’t have a single assist.
“We knew he was a big part of their offense,’’ Elliott said. “He gets them started and he has a great jump shot. You always have to be on him. You can’t give him any space.’’
And Elliott, who had scored 34 points in Westville’s three previous County Tournament games, had just 1 as he was 1-of-2 at the free-throw line.
“I don’t need to score any points as long as we win,’’ Elliott said. “I will do whatever it takes for that to happen.’’